Magnitsky bill advances with a strongly Ukrainian flavour

Diaspora politics have always been part of modern Canadian politics.

The Ukrainian Canadian community, given its numbers and long history in Canada, has played a major role in recent history (e.g., former PM Mulroney recognizing an independent Ukraine in 1991).

So it is less about the personalities involved than the fundamentals about the history, size and influence of a particular community:

The “Magnitsky Law” is a piece of Canadian legislation, not yet enacted, that seeks to hold governments and individuals to account for human rights abuses.

It’s named after Russian businessman Sergei Magnitsky, who died in a Moscow jail in 2009 after accusing officials of tax fraud. It could help to bring sanctions to other rights abusers in other countries.

In late 2012, the United States adopted the so-called Magnitsky Act, which imposes travel bans and financial sanctions on Russian officials and other individuals believed to have been involved in Magnitsky’s death.

But there’s something about the way the bill is moving forward in Canada that should perhaps give pause to legislators.

Two versions exist: a Commons version written by Conservative James Bezan, and a Senate version written by Raynell Andreychuk. That second version yesterday obtained the support of Canada’s Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland, who says the Trudeau government will help to push it through the House.

What do Bezan, Andreychuk, and Freeland all have in common?

All three are active members of Canada’s Ukrainian community. And all three happen to be among the 13 Canadians sanctioned by Russia for their supposed hostility to the country.

Diaspora politics

The situation may allow the Kremlin to tell its citizens that the bill is not really about rights abuses, but rather part of a campaign motivated by ethnic animus towards Russia.

Pro-Kremlin news media and bloggers often portray Canada’s Ukrainians as this country’s version of Miami Cubans, a community calling the shots of Canada’s foreign policy on the one issue that obsesses it.

Last year Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov accused the Canadian government of “blindly following the demands of rabid representatives of the Ukrainian diaspora in Canada.”

Canada’s response perhaps did little to defuse that Russian suspicion.

“We will not tolerate from a Russian minister any insult against the community of Ukrainians in Canada,” then-Global Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion responded in the House of Commons. “Ukrainian Canadians, we owe so much to them. We will always support them.”

Magnitsky Bill not just about Russia

Human rights groups have welcomed the Magnitsky Bill, and it has enjoyed support from Russian dissidents Gary Kasparov and Zhanna Nemtsova, the daughter of murdered opposition leader Boris Nemtsov.

It’s also intended to reach far beyond Russia, says MP Bezan.

“This will apply to all countries, whether it’s organ-harvesters in China who are falsely imprisoning Falun Gong practitioners to harvest their organs and tissues for sale around the world, whether it’s people in the Iranian regime that are denying justice and freedom to their own citizens, or even in the case of Saudi Arabia, where they’re targeting people who’ve tried to speak out against the government, this law has global application.”

Source: Magnitsky bill advances with a strongly Ukrainian flavour – Politics – CBC News

Globe editorial on the what they see as the overly broad reach of the Bill: Globe editorial: Senate’s proposed Magnitsky bill needs a rethink

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About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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